While I’m certainly not celebrating the move by Delta Air Lines to make basic economy fares far less attractive, I do not blame it for eliminating a benefit that made these fares more attractive than necessary to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers.
What Is the Theory Behind A Basic Economy Ticket?
There are two ways we can look at basic economy fares. In the negative sense, they are simply a way to offer less service for the same price, since basic economy class fares generally replace the cheapest fares in a market rather than offer even-lower fares.
But in a positive sense, they are a valuable tool for legacy carriers like Alaska, American, Delta, and United to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit in a way that still offers consumers a better alternative than flying a budget airline.
Take a flight from Florida to New York. Delta’s basic economy class fare is highly-restricted, but includes access to:
- carry-on baggage
- personal in-flight-entertainment at each seat
- wi-fi internet
- power plugs + USB ports
- roomier seats
- complimentary snacks and drinks
Currently, basic economy tickets on Delta earn both redeemable Delta SkyMiles and count towards Delta SkyMiles Medallion status.
That adds up to create a decent incentive to fly Delta over Spirit when the price is about the same, even for the most budget-conscious traveler.
Delta Eliminates Earning Award Miles + Status On Delta Basic Economy Tickets, Allows Changes (With Fee)
But Delta announced this week it is cutting back some long-established benefits of basic economy fares.
As of January 1, 2022, basic economy tickets on Delta will no longer earn redeemable Delta SkyMiles nor count towards Delta SkyMiles Medallion status if booked after December 9, 2021. As before, these fares are not eligible for upgrades and seats cannot be assigned until check-in.
But Delta also announced that instead of being “use it or lose it,” basic economy tickets will be changeable against a fee ranging from $99-199 depending upon place of purchase and travel destination.
That will leave a $0 value in some cases, but is still better than simply forfeiting tickets that cannot be used.
Through January 31, 2022 a change-fee waiver is in place on all fares, including basic economy fares. However, that waiver will soon end.
This Is A Reasonable Approach By Delta
While the two concepts underlying basic economy fares are not mutually exclusive, I don’t blame Delta for trying to cut back the benefits of these fares…because it can get away with it.
This isn’t like devaluing SkyMiles awards without notice, which represents a stab in the back to loyal customers, some of whom spend years saving miles for a dream trip.
Rather, this represents a reasonable trade-off to reduce liability (in terms of mileage and status) while still offering a more compelling product than on any of the U.S. budget carriers. It is not retroactive in that it does not punish bookings made prior to the announcement.
The package is no longer as sweet, but if the price is similar you are still getting a far better deal buying a basic economy class ticket on Delta Air Lines (or American or United) than on Frontier or Spirit.
There is no need to celebrate Delta’s latest change to basic economy class tickets, but the move makes sense and should not be taken as an affront. Basic economy class fares are intended to battle budget carriers. Ironically, those budget carriers may award both status and redemption points on tickets, but won’t include a number of other things that make the product more humane.
Bottom line: I’d still choose Delta basic economy any day and twice on Sunday over Frontier or Spirit.